The gold mining region along the North Fork of the American River in south Placer County was populated by a majority of foreign-born miners in 1860. Chinese men comprised 51 percent of the foreign-born miners. The large population of Chinese men partially accounts for their employment by the American River Water and Mining Company when maintenance and reconstruction was required on the North Fork Ditch delivering water to miners in the region.
1860 Chinese Population in South Placer County
The focus of my review of the 1860 census data for south Placer County was to estimate how large the Chinese population was in the mining region served by the North Fork Ditch. While Chinese men comprised a majority of the miners, they also represented 33% of the population along the North Fork Ditch in Placer County. U.S. born individuals were a minority in the region. There was a significant presence of European men and women along the North Fork Ditch region.
The North Fork Ditch was essentially completed in 1855. The main dam was at Tamaroo Bar on the North Fork of the American River was below Auburn. The main ditch would extend 22 miles down to Beal’s Bar passing the mining communities of Rattlesnake Bar, Horseshoe Bar, Doton’s Bar, and Carrolton. A few miles above Beal’s Bar, a branch of the North Fork Ditch known as Rose Spring, would deliver water west and north to Miner’s Ravine. The American River Water and Mining Company would also construct water canals on the north and south side of Miner’s Ravine Creek.
In 1862, the North Fork of the American River received monstrous flows of water creating widespread flooding in the Central Valley. The raging river water destroyed the North Fork Ditch’s miles of wooden flumes and earthen water canals. Payment receipts for labor to repair the ditch were made out to many Chinese men in 1863. Some of these same men were also purchasers of North Fork Ditch water. (Chinese Mining and Labor on the American River, 1858 -1868.) This raised the question of the size of the Chinese population in the region surrounding the North Fork Ditch operations in Placer County?
In this case, the mining region was generally the service territory of the North Fork Ditch in Placer County. Even though the North Fork Ditch delivered water into Sacramento County, the canal and its branches was an important source of water to miners, farms, and ranches in south Placer County.
Census of 1860 Along the North Fork Ditch Service Area
The data for estimating the population of Chinese miners was derived from the federal census of 1860. The subject territory was the gold mining region along the North Fork of the American River serviced by the North Fork Ditch and branch canals to the west and north. In 1860, Placer County was divided into Townships for various administrative functions. Portions of Township 1, 3, and 9 covered the mining population I was researching. While the North Fork Ditch delivered water into the San Juan land grant and down to Mississippi Bar in Sacramento County, that area was excluded from this review.
Township One of Placer County was the southernmost section that went from the Sutter County line on the west to the North Fork of the American River on the east. The north-eastern part of Township 1 was bounded by the river on the east and extended to one mile above Rattlesnake Bar. The northern sliver of the township was only about 3 miles wide on the northern end. Township 3, that included the town of Auburn, was closer to a typical rectangular township boundary. Township 9 was adjacent to Township 1 on the north and west side.
The 1860 census pages do not give specific location indicators. Each page listed the township number, post office that generally served the residents, and a sequential dwelling and family number. However, it was not noted if the dwellings were 20 feet apart or 2 miles distant. Because the townships were so large, they were often served by multiple post offices.
In order to narrow the territory under review, I only considered pages within townships 1, 3, 9 that were designated as being served by post offices in Folsom or Rattlesnake Bar. One census page indicated the post office was Horseshoe Bar, but I think this may have been an error. The subject area included 29 census pages representing 1,127 residents. The census page data was transferred to a spreadsheet that listed the names, ages, gender, ethnicity (white or Mongolian), occupation and state or country of birth.
U. S. Born Residents A Minority
Of the 1,127 residents captured in the census pages, 407 indicated they were born in the United States. The remaining residents, 720 or 64%, reported a birth outside of the U.S.
Both U.S. born and foreign-born immigrants reported children born in California. There were a total of 98 children, none of whom were over 10 years of age, with a birth location noted as California. The number of children reduced the number of working U.S. born adults down to 309. Approximately 31 percent of the population was born in Canada, Mexico, or a European country. One third of the population of working adults were men born in China.
Not surprising was the fact that females comprised a minority of the population. Of the 142 female residents, a large portion of them were children. There was one female Chinese reported in the census. But I could not determine if this was an error on the part of the census taker. Verifiable errors in the census pages related to sequential numbering of the dwellings or family units where it was obvious the recorder skip numbers by accident. One error was going from family 751 to 753, with no indication of family 752.
Chinese Compromised Majority of Miners
1860 Census data confirms the prominence of Chinese immigrants along the North Fork Ditch in Placer County. U. S. born residents were a minority.
The census pages listed 369 men being born in China. Of those men, 343 listed their occupation as miner. The other 26 men listed their occupation as either store keeper, merchant, servant, laborer, or gardiner (sic.) The occupation of gardiner was shared by other European immigrants. U.S. born men involved in agricultural used the term farmer. It is possible that the term gardener was synonymous with what we currently characterize as farmer today.
There were a total of 40 different occupations listed. (I tallied hotel/inn keeper, saloon/keeper, and gardiner/farmer under a combined category.) The occupation of miner accounted for 75 percent of the various jobs held. Next was laborer at 6 percent and farmer/gardiner representing 5 percent of the population. Rarely was an occupation attributed to adult women. However, there were 2 washer women, 1 female teacher, and Susan Madden, of Irish birth, listed her occupation as saloon keeper.
Within the mining region, there were various men and women providing services for primary population centers of Rattlesnake Bar, Horseshoe Bar, Doton’s Bar, Beal’s Bar and Rose Springs. Among the residents were butchers, carpenters, black smiths, cooks, and some more specific occupations such as steam engineer for the steam engines used in saw mills and water pumping operations. There were 4 men who listed their job as ostler. An ostler was someone who took care of the horses of people staying at a hotel.
North Fork Ditch Employees Listed In 1860 Census
Confirmation that the census pages reflected the area that I was studying were the names of people recorded in other historical texts. William C. Lyon of New York, Township 1, page 77, listed his occupation as toll keeper. Lyon constructed a wire suspension bridge over the river that connected Carrolton with Condemned Bar in 1856. The bridge would ultimately be dismantled and moved to the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River in 1865.
The Lyon entry means the census taker was traveling through the mining town of Carrolton. Down the road, the census taker would enumerate the family of James Martin of Canada, Township 1, page 79. Martin listed his occupation as Soda Factory. We know there was a soda factory at Rock Spring, south of Carrolton. In 1855, B. Tallman wrote to Amos Catlin of the North Fork Ditch complaining that the water canal had overflowed destroying parts of the soda factory and portions of the inventory.
Close to Auburn, Samuel S. Greenwood listed his occupation at toll keeper. The toll keeper position could have been for the Oregon Bar ferry. S.S. Greenwood was elected as Superintendent of Public Schools in 1859. From a history of Placer County, S. S. Greenwood’s wife would commit suicide in 1862 two miles south of Auburn. The location of the unfortunate incident would put the Greenwood residence in Township 3 within or near the canyon of the American River.
The most definitive evidence that the surveyed census pages closely capture the mining district served by the North Fork Ditch are the 8 different men who listed their occupation as either water agent or ditch tender. Foremost among the men was Davis S. Beach, Township 3, page 43, listed his occupation as ditch agent. A ditch agent or water agent was principal person employed to collect the payments of water sold to North Fork Ditch consumers. Beach was intimately involved in the operation of the North Fork Ditch from his location near Rattlesnake Bar.
David Beach was the cousin of Amos Catlin and began working on the North Fork Ditch sometime in 1855 while Catlin was the Superintendent of the American River Water and Mining Company. Beach wrote Catlin several letters on the maintenance and operation of the water canal. He also authorized the payments to various men, including Chinese men, for labor on the water ditch.
In 1859, Beach became the legal guardian of Mary E. French after her father, F.B. French died. Mary French, age 5, is listed in the household of David Beach, spouse Adrianna, and newborn daughter Adrianna on the 1860 census. Also in 1860, David Beach would become the postmaster for Rattlesnake Bar.
Other water agents for the North Fork Ditch and listed on the census pages were W. S. Gage, Wm. H. Sheldon, Hosea E. French, and Jas. R. Roger. The men who listed their occupation as ditch tender in the census were Michael Kelly, E. L. Porter, and Jas. Neal. Ditch tenders were primarily tasked with regulating the flow in the ditch, opening, or closing water outlets to consumers, and light repair and maintenance.
Difficulties Tracking and Identifying Chinese Men
In addition to the census data, the water agents and ditch tenders were also referenced in records of the American River Water and Mining Company who owned and operated the North Fork Ditch from 1855 to 1868. Water sales reports from 1856 to 1868 list Beach, Sheldon, French, and Porter as men who collected money for water sold through the North Fork Ditch from miners and farmers. There are numerous receipts paying men for their labor repairing and maintaining the North Fork Ditch signed by many of the same water agents from the 1860 census.
Unfortunately, because the names of men listed on the census, water sales reports, and payment receipts were often phonetically spelled or misspelled, it can be difficult with any degree of confidence to track some of the men from the North Fork Ditch documents back to the census data. However, some of the men listed in the census, and also paid for their labor in 1863, were Michael Kelly, Sam Robinson, James Ritchie, Jos. Kelley, and M. Sexton. Several of the men listed on the census were also consumers of North Fork Ditch water. Listed on water sales reports as ditch customers were Joseph Duncan, Alexander Casady, and John Campbell.
It is even more difficult to definitively connect Chinese men listed on the 1860 census to either water sales reports or receiving payments for their labor in the North Fork Ditch. There are 14 Chinese men listed as being paid for their labor on the North Fork Ditch in 1863. The payment receipts indicate there were often several men being paid, but only one primary payee. For example, Ah Yu was paid $24 for the work of four men on a dam. On the census, the last name pronounced (yu) was spelled Yu, You, and Yue. The various spellings make it impossible to link Ah Yu to a specific dwelling on the census.
The water sales reports show a gradual increase of Chinese men in the south Placer county census area. In 1856, available water sales reports list only two Chinese men buying North Fork Ditch water at Smith’s Bar: Ah Jim and Ah Say. By 1863, there were approximately 23 Chinese men purchasing water for small companies of miners and for agriculture. In the Rose Spring area, Ah Sing, Ah Fook, Ah Yong, Ah Goon, Ah Chan, Ah Sing, Ah Sey, Ah On, Ah Bow, Ah Khung, and Ah Sune were listed as consumers. At Rattlesnake Bar, Ah Curing, Ah Sock, Tina Sing, Ah Tong were water purchasers. In the Doton’s Bar region, Ah Kiwi, Ah Cheung, Tom Sing, Ah Poi, Ah Pew, Ah Sock, and Wo Sing Hee were sold water.
Many of these Chinese names correspond exactly or loosely to Chinese men listed on the 1860 census. However, it is virtually impossible to match Chinese water consumers to specific census entries because of the inconsistency of spellings of their names. For instance, in the labor receipts there is an Ah Chilee and an individual listed as Ah Tchle. Was this the same person whose name was spelled differently by 2 different people?
What we can conclude is that the mining region along the North Fork Ditch in southern Placer County was heavily populated with immigrants from both Europe and China. If the labor payment receipts of 1863 are representative of the work done on the North Fork Ditch most of it was done by Chinese men, 288 Chinese man hours versus 125 White man hours. It also appears that anywhere from 1/3 to ½ of the water sales were to Chinese miners and farmers in the early 1860s along the North Fork Ditch.
As the North Fork Ditch was severely damaged in the floods of 1862, the revenue from the Chinese men buying water, in addition to the lower wages paid to Chinese men to help rebuild the North Fork Ditch, was crucial to keeping the water canal operational. Consequently, the Chinese immigrants in south Placer were an important part of the economy and community in 1860.
This very narrow and shallow review of the 1860 census data raises questions that can only be answered with other research. Were Chinese immigrants as prominent on the South Fork of the American River along the Natoma Ditch? To what degree was the Chinese population impacted by employment opportunities with the Central Pacific Railroad? Where did the Chinese men migrate to when gold production dwindled below a sustainable yield? Perhaps further research will answer some of these questions.
 History of Placer County, California, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, page 289. Thompson and West, 1882.
 B. Tallman letter to Amos Catlin, August 21, 1855. Huntington Library, Catlin Papers Addenda Box 2: 1855 – 1865.
 History of Placer County, California, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, page 259. Thompson and West, 1882.
 History of Placer County, California, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, page 341. Thompson and West, 1882.
 The History of Placer and Nevada Counties, California, page 179. Lardner and Brock, 1924.